On the tracks of ancient cultures: Archaeological Geophysics

As a team member of the first MUAFS season 2018/2019 responsible for magnetic investigations I would like to introduce the geophysical methods used for archaeological purposes. These methods will also be highly relevant for the DiverseNile project.

In the last decades, geophysics became a substantial part of archaeological projects. Depending on several factors, the most suitable geophysical method is chosen: the environment (desert, steppe, swampland etc.), the archaeological period and the used archaeological materials (stone, mudbrick etc.), but also the questioning (settlement layout and extension, cemetery detection etc.).  Additionally, the decision is influenced by available time, financial means and sometimes the season.

Still the fastest and most effective geophysical method in archaeology is magnetometry. It provides getting an overview of a site as well as its environment, extension and layout. Magnetic prospecting enables us to distinguish between settlement and burial sites, their structure, special buildings, open areas, as well as fortifications. Depending on the chosen sensors, we can learn more about the geology and environment and their changes over time. Accompanying measurements of magnetic susceptibility deliver information about magnetic properties of scattered objects and building materials as well as archaeological sediments and can be used in archaeological excavations as well.

Magnetic gradient investigations in Ginis 2019, site GiE 001 (Photo: Giulia D’Ercole).

But how does it work? Magnetometers are recording the intensity of the earth magnetic field with high-resolution. Nowadays, the earth magnetic field in the Attab to Ferka region has an intensity of around 39.400 Nanotesla (nT). With sensitive total field magnetometers, magnetic anomalies of less than 1 nT can be detected during archaeo-geophysical surveys, displaying even archaeological features like mudbrick walls or palisades.

Magnetic investigations benefit from varying magnetic properties of archaeological soils and sediments as well as materials. Every human activity regarding the surface is detectable because of different magnetic response. For example, digging a ditch, building a wall or using a kiln is changing or disturbing the actual earth magnetic field. What else can be detected? Architecture, streets, canals and riverbeds, ditches, pits and graves can be revealed just as palisades, posts and fire installations. Additionally, more information about geological and environmental conditions can be collected using magnetometry, e. g. paleo channels or former wadis.

For detecting stone architecture and for example voids, resistivity (areal or profile) and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) methods are applied, partly in addition to magnetic investigations. While magnetometry gives an overview about buried features beneath the surface in a ‘timeless picture’, GPR and ERT (Electrical Resistivity Tomography) provide more information about the depth and preserved height of the features. Of course, more than one geophysical method can be applied to get a comprehensive dataset for more complete interpretation of the results. Combined with archaeological work – survey and excavation – we can increase our knowledge and understanding of physical properties of archaeological and geological features as well as improve our interpretation.

Geophysical prospecting was originally developed for military purposes to detect submarine boats, aircrafts or gun emplacements. Furthermore, natural and especially mineral resources can be located. Geophysical methods and first of all magnetometry are used in archaeology since the late 1950s, when Martin Aitken detected Roman kilns in the UK. In Sudan, magnetometry is used since the late 1960s when Albert Hesse started investigations at Mirgissa in Lower Nubia. Since then, instruments as well as software programs for data collecting, processing and imaging have been developed and improved and offer detailed mapping of sites. First, geophysical prospecting can be applied fast, nondestructive and comprehensive. For magnetic prospection there is a variety of configurations to use, from handheld one/two-sensor instruments to motorized and multisensory systems but also different types of sensors. Through geographic information systems (GIS) geophysical investigations are benefiting from integrating high-resolution satellite images, drone images and models, survey and excavation data for a comprehensive interpretation of results.

After collecting magnetic data in the field, the files are downloaded and processed to get an idea of the first results. With that the field measurement proceeding can be adjusted as well as excavation trenches can be chosen. The detailed processing and analyzing of the collected field data are conducted back home on the desk.

References

Campana, Stefano; Piro, Salvatore (eds.) (2009): Seeing the Unseen. Geophysics and Landscape Archaeology. London: Taylor & Francis.

Dalan, R. (2017): Susceptiblity. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 939–944.

Fassbinder, Jörg W. E. (2017): Magnetometry for Archaeology. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 499–514.

Herbich, Tomasz (2019): Efficiency of the magnetic method in surveying desert sites in Egypt and Sudan: Case studies. In: Raffaele Persico, Salvatore Piro and Neil Linford (eds.): Innovation in Near-Surface Geophysics. Instrumentation, Application, and Data Processing Methods. First edition. Amsterdam, Oxford, Cambridge: Elsevier, 195–251.

Schmidt, Armin; Linford, Paul; Linford, Neil; David, Andrew; Gaffney, Chris; Sarris, Apostolos; Fassbinder, Jörg (2015): EAC Guidelines for the Use of Geophysics in Archaeology. Questions to Ask and Points to Consider. Namur: Europae Archaeologia Consilium (EAC Guidelines, 2).

Investigating the variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region (MUAFS concession area)

After the recent blog posts by my colleagues Rennan Lemos and Giulia D’Ercole presenting their tasks within Work Package 2 and Work Package 3 I am not only happy to introduce Work Package 1: The variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region I am – together with our PI Julia Budka – responsible for, but also to write my first blog entry as a member of the ERC Consolidator Grant project DiverseNile. This especially, since I already could join the previous ERC Starting Grant project AcrossBorders of Julia Budka for its last year at the end of 2017, leaving Berlin and moving to Munich, which – as a Tyrolean – felt a bit like coming home.

My first contact with Sudan, which I immediately fell in love with, while working in Hamadab/Meroe and Musawwarat es-Sufra, was very long ago in 2003. But also my first visit to the region between the Second and Third Cataract – and here specifically to Sai Island with its impressive New Kingdom town – dates some years back to 2012.

At Sai Island, especially by the AcrossBorders project or at the neighbouring town Amara West (Spencer et al. 2017), the research of the recent years concerning the manifold relations between the Egyptians and the Nubians in the Middle Nile already moved towards a more differentiated approach with implementing the concept of ‘cultural entanglement’ (see van Pelt 2013 with references). The focus of work at sites like Sai and Amara being administrative centres in New Kingdom Nubia was necessarily set on the official and elite sphere.

The DiverseNile project investigating the Attab to Ferka region now goes a step further aiming to throw light on the peripheries still very much standing in the shadows of the powerful urban sites. Shifting the focus towards the hinterland not only broadens our horizon filling the still significant voids of research in this region of the Nile valley but very much promises to give a new and deeper insight in the cultural diversity of people living in the hinterland of towns, their interactions and possible more autonomous living situations – as these aspects become archaeologically more visible aside official power throughout the rich cultural history of Nubia.

In this regard WP 1 aims to contribute to a better understanding of the occupants of the Attab to Ferka region, their cultural identities and interactions, their social structures or complexity through investigating the diverse settlement sites, their variability and development and thus their spatial and temporal frame. Concerning the latter our focus lies on Bronze Age Nubia, a term introduced by our PI reflecting the need to have a more differentiated look at the so far used categories ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ during the Kerma and the Egyptian Second Intermediate and New Kingdom Periods in Nubia and thus an era with multiple upheavals. This need became also clear studying the previously classifications attributed to the diverse archaeological remains in this part of the Middle Nile valley.

In this respect the region of our interest was previously and firstly surveyed by the Sudan Antiquities Service together with the French Archaeological Research Unit in the 1970ies directed by A. Vila and resulting in several Volumes. These works serve as very important input for our research, as Vila and his team impressively discovered and documented 219 sites from Palaeolithic to Medieval times. Among these, sites qualified by Vila as Kerma and New Kingdom remains were represented both at around 7% on the right and with a larger number at 12.4% resp. 16.9% on the left riverbanks, the latter consisting predominantly of settlement sites.

Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region identified by the MUAFS project (status: 2020)

Among all of the sites listed by Vila a total of 138 sites could be successfully re-identified during our two MUAFS seasons in 2018/2019 and at the beginning of this year, shortly before Covid-19 became the new reality (for further details see the online reports as well as Budka 2019). As an fascinating example for an Egyptian New Kingdom domestic site comprising evidence for Kerma presence too, GiE 001 (Vila’s site NF-36-M/2-T-36B), can be emphasized here, where a test excavation was started in 2020, which we will hopefully further pursue next year.

Distribution of New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan sites in the MUAFS concession (status: 2020)

Although Covid-19 has restricted us to office work, it has not limited us to carry out our research or staying in contact with our Sudanese colleagues and friends. Re-planning rather is giving us the possibility not only to evaluate the already gained data and information but also to engage with the topic in depth. In this regard I am currently not only further screening sites of our interest indicated by Vila, analysing his approach and state of documentation, but also their distribution within our concession area. Concerning the latter the examination of similar situations of periphery within frontier zones like for example the Third Cataract (Edwards 2012) and a deeper study of other rural Kerma villages like Gism el-Arba (Gratien 2003) yields a very fruitful input for our questionings in many ways. As I dealt a lot with Kushite sacral architecture in the last years doing my PhD, I am especially happy to explore architectural remains aside of the official sphere telling a lot of different and lesser known stories. In this regard – as my next blog entry will address Kerma types of domestic architecture and building techniques – keep reading here in our space!

References

Budka, J. 2019 (with contributions by G. D’Ercole, C. Geiger, V. Hinterhuber and M. Scheiblecker). Towards Middle Nile Biographies: the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019. Sudan & Nubia 23, 13–26.

Edwards, D. N. 2012. ‘The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements’, in A. Osman and D. N. Edwards (eds), Archaeology of a Nubian frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan. Leicester, 59–87.

Gratien, B., S. Marchi, O. Thuriot, and J.-M. Willot 2003. ‘Gism el- Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil’. Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29–43.

Spencer, N., Stevens, A. and Binder, M. 2017. Introduction: History and historiography of a colonial entanglement, and the shaping of new archaeologies for Nubia in the New Kingdom, 1‒61, in: N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived Experience, Pharaonic Control and Indigenous Traditions. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3. Leuven.

Van Pelt, W.P. 2013. Revising Egypto-Nubian Relations in New Kingdom Lower Nubia: From Egyptianization to Cultural Entanglement. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23.3, 523‒550.

Team building in covid-19 times

With the very nice blog posts by our new team members Rennan and Giulia in the last weeks, focusing on scientific aspects of the ERC DiverseNile project, it’s now my duty as the project leader to communicate ‘other’ aspects of our project – today, I will give you some insights about our team building strategy and the present challenges because of covid-19.

Honestly, I really did not envisage in August when we planned a hiking day for the DiverseNile team how bad the corona situation will become in Bavaria. We were more afraid about the weather when we finally scheduled our trip to Andechs to mid-November, believing that outdoor activities should be ok in these challenging times. Well, with the current regulations, it was of course clear that we need to find an alternative programme. Marion came up with the splendid idea of a virtual museum visit and this was indeed much fun!

We organized the virtual museum trip as a hybrid meeting, using a meeting owl and zoom and of course keeping distance and wearing masks. I was happy to be able to make a small contribution to support the local gastronomy and beer production by ordering food and drinks for the team – the ones joining via zoom of course had their own lunch.

Getting ready for our first social team meeting in times of covid-19! (photo: C. Geiger).

The food was delicious, beer from Munich as well and also our office dogs enjoyed this culinary part of the afternoon.

Really everybody in the room was happy with the food… (photo: C. Geiger).

Afterwards, we visited the Deutsches Museum (https://www.deutsches-museum.de/index.php?id=1&L=1) which of course is currently closed, but offers a lot of various videos and 3D tours – really much fun to watch! We found a fitting theme to start with – From cholera until corona and learned also much about the universe, aeronautics and other topics.

without words… (photos: C. Geiger).

Marion used the opportunity to shoot a short video for our new instagram account and Cajetan, as always, was our photographer of the day.

Of course, we are very much looking forward to better times when a real hiking day in the beautiful landscape of Bavaria will be possible – but as an alternative programme, our improvised excursion was much fun. Many thanks to all and we will probably have a follow-up hybrid meeting soon for our Christmas party.

Assessing cultural diversity in the Attab to Ferka region by means of pottery technology

Time passes by for everyone. Also, and above all for archaeologists. Still, it is pleasant when this comes with experience and new opportunities.

On February 2013 I wrote my first post for the AcrossBorders blog. At that time, I was sitting in the magazine rooms of the Sai Island excavation house starting to get familiar with the Nubian fabrics of the New Kingdom town. A few months later I moved to Vienna to join the ERC Starting Grant ‘AcrossBorders’ project led by Julia Budka.

Since then, hundreds of ceramic samples have passed through my hands. These were both Nubian-style and Egyptian-style vessels locally produced at Sai Island / Upper Nubia, but also Imported Nile clays, Marl clays and Oasis clays from Egypt, together with other imported wares from Levant. These materials constituted the aim of my research for AcrossBorders and were sampled, documented and analysed by me together with Johannes Sterba, at the Atominstitut of Vienna. Over the years, thanks to Julia Budka, I have learned how to recognize and classify these wares and fabrics and we calibrated together on them the different analytical strategies and research objectives. Now I fairly know each of those samples by heart.

Yet, we do not grow where things are easy, we grow when we face challenges (and new opportunities).

With October, I happily started in Munich a new three-year contract within Julia Budka’s ERC Consolidator Grant project ‘Diverse Nile’, where I am, together with other researchers and Julia Budka, responsible for the Work Package 3: Reconstructing cultural encounters based on the material culture. My main tasks within WP 3 include petrographic technological and compositional analyses on the ceramic materials sampled from the new concession area in the Attab to Ferka region, dating to the Bronze Age.

Emphasis will lay on pottery technology and mostly on the so-called hybrid products and their significance for cultural encounters (see, e.g., Stockhammer 2013; Matić 2017; Beck 2018; Steel 2018; Souza 2020), on Nubian local style vessels and on the provenience of wheel-made ‘Egyptian’ pottery.

Analytical methods will comprise petrographic (OM) and provenance chemical analysis (iNAA and possibly XRF) but also digital image analysis (DIA) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) on selected samples. Further, since the focus will lay mainly on pottery technology and manufacturing techniques, other analytical methodologies (e.g., radiography and computed tomography, CT) will be evaluated for studying the internal structures of the objects and the diversity among specific hand -made (i.e., coiling, mold-building, slab-building), wheel-made and possibly also mixed hand-made and wheel-made forming techniques (see e.g., Sanger 2016). A greater importance will be given to observe the technology of production of the vessels aimed at outlining all stages of the manufacturing processes, from raw material procurement through preparation, production, finishing, until use, and discard.

Macro and micro (PPL, 4x magnification) photos of a bread plate sample (manufactured in a local Egyptian-style Nile clay) from SAV 1 East, Sai Island. Note the very fine-grained fabric with abundant organic inclusions distributed randomly through the sample because of the hand-shaped manufacturing (technique).

From a theoretical perspective, a new challenge will be to deal with the ceramic assemblages from the periphery of the central urban sites and relate them to our reference collection from Sai Island. Were there any different strategies in the selection of raw materials, preparation of the vessels and manufacturing techniques between central and peripheral sites? Furthermore, were the proportions between local Nubian-style, Egyptian-style, and various imported vessels equal or not between core sites and periphery?

For this purpose, comparative material from other main New Kingdom/Kerma central sites in Upper Nubia will be incorporated to our principal reference collection from Sai Island.

Luckily, Covid times have not completely blocked us, and thanks to a kind agreement with our colleague and friend Philippe Ruffieux, we are currently waiting to welcome in Munich a bunch of approx. forty samples, among which typical Nubian (Kerma) and Egyptian Nile clay wares from the New Kingdom/Kerma-Dukki Gel site.

It will be a pleasure to start my new task within the DiverseNile project by documenting, sampling, and examining this highly relevant material!

References

Beck, T. 2018. Postkoloniale Objektepistemologien? Homi Bhabhas Konzepte in archäologischen Forschungen – ein Überblick, 237–262, in: M. Hilgert, H. Simon and K.P. Hofmann (eds.), Objektepistemologien. Zur Vermessung eines transdisziplinären Forschungsraums. Berlin.

Matić, U. 2017. Der dritte Raum, Hybridität und das Niltal: das epistemologische Potenzial der postkolonialen Theorie in der Ägyptologie, 93‒111, in: S. Beck, B. Backes and A. Verbovsek (eds.), Interkulturalität: Kontakt Konflikt Konzeptualisierung. Beiträge des sechsten Berliner Arbeitskreises Junge Aegyptologie (BAJA 6), 13.11.-15.11.2015. Wiesbaden.

Sanger, M.C. 2016. Investigating pottery vessel manufacturing techniques using radiographic imaging and computed tomography: Studies from the Late Archaic American Southeast, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 9, 586‒598.

Steel, L. 2018. Egyptianizing practices and cultural hybridity in the Southern Levant during the Late Bronze Age, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 20, 15‒30.

Stockhammer, P.W. 2013. From Hybridity to Entanglement, from Essentialism to Practice, Archaeological Review from Cambridge Issue 28.1: Archaeology and Cultural Mixing, 11‒28.

Souza, A. M. de. 2010. Melting Pots: Entanglement, Appropriation, Hybridity, and Assertive Objects between the Pan-Grave and Egyptian Ceramic Traditions, Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 27, 1‒23.

Mortuary archaeology in the area from Attab to Ferka (MUAFS concession area)

With my appointment as the newest member of the DiverseNile team, it’s now time to present Work Package 2: The Variability of Funerary Monuments in the Region from Attab to Ferka, Northern Sudan.

Figure 1: Map of MUAFS concession with overview of surveyed areas (C. Geiger).

As responsible for Work Package 2, I will investigate, with PI Julia Budka, all aspects of mortuary sites within the MUAFS concession area (figure 1). The area from Attab to Ferka was firstly surveyed by André Vila within a larger survey from Dal to Missiminia. The results of Vila’s survey were published by the French CNRS in 15 volumes, which describe numerous sites located in the area­­­­­. Volumes 3 to 6 focus on the MUAFS concession in the region from Attab to Ferka.

Vila identified a series of funerary sites between Attab and Ferka, which I will explore in my research within the DiverseNile team. The aim is to understand the materialisation of cultural diversity through tomb architecture, burial customs and goods, focusing on the Bronze Age, which in our concession area comprises the Kerma, Egyptian New Kingdom and Napatan periods.

The 2018/19 and 2020 seasons of MUAFS survey re-identified and documented various burials sites previously listed by Vila, some of which were extensively plundered in recent times (Budka 2019; see also our online reports). Two cemeteries at Ginis East seem to be especially relevant for future excavation. GiE002 (Vila site 2-T-13) and GiE003 (Vila site 2-T-13) date to the Kerma Period and Egyptian New Kingdom, respectively. Kerma cemeteries usually comprise tumuli burials, while New Kingdom sites include shaft tombs with no preserved superstructure. Magnetometry was carried out at both sites in 2019 and will be used to further assess the archaeological potential of the cemeteries to plan future excavations. An additional survey is also planned for the next season, which will hopefully reveal more potentially relevant cemeteries or isolated tombs.

Besides new excavations, a large part of research on mortuary sites in our concession area consists of revisiting publications, archives and material culture previously excavated and now in museums. I’m currently developing a research strategy that will explore both avenues. My PhD experience demonstrated the huge potential of revisiting old excavation reports and archival material (see, for example, Edwards 2020), as well as museum collections from a fresh theoretical perspective.

In general, the DiverseNile project focuses on shifting conceptualisations and experiences of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’. My previous research stresses the contextual role performed by foreign objects in local contexts in New Kingdom cemeteries in Nubia. I argue that foreign, Egyptian-style objects could perform alternative, local tasks other than materialising Egyptian colonisation through objects in Nubian contexts (Lemos 2020). DiverseNile Work Package 2 will combine both general theoretical perspectives to unveil cultural diversity in contexts previously thought to express homogenisation only.

I am also particularly interested in refining our understanding of New Kingdom chronology in Nubia. So far, Egyptocentric approaches have mainly accepted that the same dates used to understand Egyptian history apply to Nubian colonial contexts. In my PhD thesis, I discuss the use of alternative terminology, based on local Nubian experiences of colonisation, instead of landmarks of Egyptian political history. DiverseNile has been adopting ‘Bronze Age Nubia’ as a working alternative. PI Julia Budka and I will be closely working on this topic, and I hope that new excavations will provide us with more refined dates than those usually extracted from typological approaches to sites and material culture. This would be especially relevant for the end of the New Kingdom colonial period/pre-Napatan Period, which is still poorly understood (e.g., Thill 2007; Binder 2011).

Stay tuned to this space for updates regarding my work on mortuary sites and material culture in Attab-Ferka!

References

Binder, M. 2011. The 10th-9th century BC – New Evidence from Cemetery C of Amara West. Sudan & Nubia 15: 39-53.

Budka, J. 2019 (with contributions by G. D’Ercole, C. Geiger, V. Hinterhuber and M. Scheiblecker). Towards Middle Nile Biographies: the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019. Sudan & Nubia 23: 13-26.

Edwards, D. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-1969. The Pharaonic Sites. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Lemos, R. 2020. Material Culture and Colonization in Ancient Nubia: Evidence from the New Kingdom Cemeteries. In Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith. New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51726-1_3307-1

Thill, F. 2007. Les réoccupations “(pré)napatéennes” dans le cimetière égyptien 8B5/SAC5 de Sai. In Mélanges offerts à Francis Geus, ed. B. Gratien. CRIPEL 26: 353–369.

New recruitment: proud to introduce Rennan Lemos

Good things come to those who wait – this holds especially true in the times of the corona pandemic. I am more than delighted and very grateful to all who made it possible despite of the crisis that finally, after a very long wait since March, I can now welcome Rennan Lemos from Brazil as a new team member for the ERC DiverseNile project! Welcome to Munich, dear Rennan!

Rennan’s first day in office here in Munich.

Rennan was the successful candidate in a call for applications earlier this year – we had very strong candidates from all over the world, but he convinced us in the end, especially because of his PhD thesis which fits perfectly to the objectives of DiverseNile.

Early in 2020, Rennan has handed in his thesis, entitled Foreign Objects in Local Contexts: Mortuary Objectscapes in Late Colonial Nubia, under the supervision of Dr Kate Spence at the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge.

He is a trained specialist in Egyptian and Nubian material culture, with extensive experience excavating, handling, documenting and publishing ancient objects. In his career, he has focused on the study of elite and non-elite mortuary contexts in Egypt and Sudan, usually associated with theoretical perspectives in favour of social complexity and cultural diversity.

Rennan’s PhD thesis deals with the problem of the spread of Egyptian-style material culture in mortuary contexts in New Kingdom Nubia. His work offers a more complex perspective on the role of foreign objects in mortuary contexts in Nubia beyond previous homogenising approaches based on the concept of Egyptianisation, but it also presents a critique to approaches excessively focused on cultural contacts, such as cultural entanglement. His interpretation of material from various cemeteries in Sudan is conducted in the light of state-of-the-art theoretical discussions in Material Culture Studies, Postcolonial Theory and Sudanese Archaeology.

All of this and especially his deep knowledge of mortuary material culture and contexts in Nubia made Rennan the perfect choice for us: He is now the responsible person for Work Package 2 (The Variability of Funerary Monuments in the Region from Attab to Ferka), aiming to illustrate the cultural diversity on the religious level by disentangling burial grounds from previous cultural categorisations and showing acceptance, appropriation or ignorance of various cultural influences in the funerary sphere.

Looking much forward to this new collaboration with our fresh team member!

Once upon a time… in Nubia, Egypt and Vienna

October has passed really fast, with increasing attention given to the covid-19 crisis. The latter will of course continue in the next weeks…

The DiverseNile project has got some reinforcement in the person of Giulia D’Ercole. Building upon her expertise gained in the framework of the AcrossBorders project, she will be focusing within our Work Package 3 (material culture) on various assessments and analyses of ceramics from the MUAFS concession. A special focus will be on the question of ‘peripheral’ Kerma pottery production including a comparison with the one at the capital, at Kerma city.

Also in other respects, October was very busy – and somehow sentimental, full of memories – nice ones fortunately! Earlier this month, one of the most remarkable present-day Austrian Egyptologists celebrated a round-numbered birthday – my PhD supervisor Manfred Bietak is well-known for his research and publication activities on Egyptian archeology and especially on cultural contacts during the Middle Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. Very remarkable, but little-known is also his field work in Nubia early in his career – as a member of the excavations by the Austrian National Committee of the UNESCO Campaign for the Rescue of the Nubian Antiquities in the Sayala district, he excavated between 1961-1965 various cemeteries of Nubian groups (especially so-called C-Group and Pan-Grave, but also later tombs potentially associated with Blemmyes), as well as relics of the Medieval period. This early experience left a deep impression and all of his students know stories by Manfred being told at excavations and excursions starting with “once upon in Nubia, …”. I consider myself fortunate to be among these students and am simply grateful for such an inspiring teacher!

Once upon in Nubia – here in Sayala, 1965. Bietak and Jungwirth 1966, pl. 1.

To celebrate Manfred’s birthday but also his achievements for the study of Late Period Egypt, I organized the first online Study Day of the Ankh-Hor project. This day was a real success and the lectures are by now available online via LMU cast.
Finally, a podcast has been released where I immerse myself in my memories – talking about the critical moment in my career when it was unclear whether I can stay in academia or not.

https://scilog.fwf.ac.at/podcasts/die-archaeologin-im-hundepark

If you want to know what an egg and my dog’s interest in this egg has to do with that – then you will have to listen to the podcast 😉!

Reference:

Bietak, M. and Jungwirth, J. Die österreichischen Grabungen in Ägyptisch-Nubien im Herbst 1965, in: Ann. Naturhistorisches Museum 69, 1966, 463-470.

Back to school – or: DiverseNile after the summer break

Munich is very busy again, the quiet days of the summer break in the city are gone, the parks are crowded again, school vacations are almost finished and a new school year will start next week.

The MUAFS project and DiverseNile had just a very short break in August, everything was quite packed due to the extended corona term at LMU and some appointments including a very pleasant one in Vienna: my family lecture about archaeology in Egypt and Sudan! This lecture was part of activities by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in the framework of the KinderUniOnline.

I tried to explain to kids in the age of 7-12 years why I am personally still fascinated by ancient Egypt and Sudan. I talked about the numerous finds we unearth and can use to try to reconstruct daily life activities and more. I highlighted some examples from the tomb of Ankh-Hor in Luxor and of course I talked about cooking pots, ceramics in general (and brought some sherds with me to show!) and the very promising remains in the Attab to Ferka region which still have so many open questions for us.

You can watch my lecture (in German) at youtube:

Let’s hope that some future archaeologists are inspired by the rich archaeological heritage in Egypt and Sudan!

The periphery of New Kingdom urban centres in the Middle Nile

My ERC project DiverseNile focuses on the Attab to Ferka region as a peripheral zone in the neighbourhood of Amara West and Sai Island. However, I do not apply the problematic core-periphery concept for our case study of the Bronze Age, but I have introduced the contact space biography approach.

This morning, I just read a very inspiring paper I found in a new open access journal: Federica Sulas and Innocent Pikirayi wrote about “From Centre-Periphery Models to Textured Urban Landscapes: Comparative Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa”.

They review the relations between ancient capital centres in Africa and their peripheries, using Aksum and Great Zimbabwe as case studies. They include a very good introduction about the history of research from central-place theory and world-system theory to network theories and stress that „archaeological research on centre–periphery relations has largely focused on the structure of integrated, regional economic systems“ (Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 67). Like DiverseNile, they advocate to take the dynamics of interactions into account, the fluidity of what is considered “centre” and what “periphery”.

In Nubian studies and Egyptology, there is a considerable gap of work at sites in the periphery of major settlements (see Moeller 2016, 25). At present, despite of much progress on settlement patterns in Nubia during the New Kingdom (see e.g. Budka and Auenmüller 2018) we still know almost nothing about the surroundings of administrative centres set up by the Egyptians in the Middle Nile and the cultural processes within this periphery. The urban centres of this period in the Middle Nile are the Egyptian type towns Amara West, Sai, Soleb, Sesebi and Tombos and Kerma City as capital of the Nubian Kerma Kingdom. Very little rural settlements have been investigated up to now, creating a dearth of means to contextualise the central sites (Spencer et al. 2017: 42). Sites classified as ‘Egyptian’ apart from the main centres are almost unknown (Edwards 2012) and there are only two case studies for Kerma ‘provincial’ sites with Gism el-Arba (Gratien et al. 2003; 2008) and H25 near Kawa (Ross 2014).

If we want to understand the proper dynamics of Bronze Age Middle Nile, this bias between studies of urban centres and rural places in the so-called peripheries needs to be addressed. However, such a new study should avoid the problematic issues of a hierarchy of sites associated with the centre-periphery relations. Thus, DiverseNile intends to offer a new model focusing on the landscape and consequently human and non-human actors in a defined contact space.

Our new approach: beyond core and periphery

Within the DiverseNile project, we understand the Attab to Ferka area as a dynamic, fluid contact space shaped by diverse human and non-human actors. My main thesis is that we need to investigate cultural relations and coalitions between people on a regional level within the so-called periphery of the main urban centres in order to catch a more direct cultural footprint than what the elite sources and state built foundations can reveal. I expect that cultural refigurations reflected in material remains are partly less, partly more visible than in the centres shaped by elite authorities, where dynamic cultural developments are often disguised under an ‘official’ appearance. However, I completely agree with Sulas and Pikirayi that: “Peripheral settlements are always an integral part of the core, as these play a crucial part in enhancing the dynamics exhibited at the centre” (Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 80). Thus, our new work in the Attab to Ferka region will allow us to contextualise the findings at sites like Amara West and Sai further.

There is still much work to do and data to assess, but I am positive that in the next few years, we will be able to propose a new understanding of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’ in Bronze Age Middle Nile (see already the stimulating article by Henriette Hafsaas-Tsakos 2009).

References

Budka, Julia and Auenmüller, Johannes 2018. Eds. From Microcosm to Macrocosm. Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Leiden.

Edwards, David N. 2012. The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements, 59–87, in: A. Osman and D.N. Edwards (eds.), Archaeology of a Nubian frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan. Leicester.

Gratien, Brigitte et al. 2003. Gism el-Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29–43.

Gratien, Brigitte et al. 2008. Gism el-Arba – Habitat 2, Campagne 2005–2006, Kush 19 (2003–2008), 21–35.

Hafsaas-Tsakos, Henriette 2009. The Kingdom of Kush: An African Centre on the Periphery of the Bronze Age World System, Norwegian Archaeological Review 42, 50–70.

Moeller, Nadine 2016. The Archaeology of Urbanism in Ancient Egypt. From the Prehistoric Period to the End of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge.

Ross, T.I. 2014. El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile, Sudan & Nubia 18, 58‒68.

Spencer, Neal et al. 2017. Introduction: History and historiography of a colonial entanglement, and the shaping of new archaeologies for Nubia in the New Kingdom, 1‒61, in: N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived Experience, Pharaonic Control and Indigenous Traditions. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3. Leuven.

Sulas, Federica and Pikirayi, Innocent 2020. From Centre-Periphery Models to Textured Urban Landscapes: Comparative Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa, Journal of Urban Archaeology 1, 67–83 https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/epdf/10.1484/J.JUA.5.120910

Archaeological team building in times of covid-19

Walking through Munich in these warm and sunny days, one could think that nothing happened, that there is no worldwide pandemic. As an archaeologist working in Egypt and Sudan, this illusion seems completely unreal to me. I am still checking the covid-19 data from the two countries in the Lower and Middle Nile on a daily basis and news from friends and colleagues arrive via twitter, whatsapp and email. Since a few weeks, there are unfortunately also corona cases in the region of Abri, thus close to our MUAFS concession, and the situation in Luxor, Egypt, is far from being under control. Especially in view of the current travel warnings to Sudan and Egypt, I have cancelled the planned season in Luxor for the Ankh-Hor project. And we still have no idea when we can go back to the Attab to Ferka region – very thought-provoking times indeed and my thoughts are first of all with all Egyptians and Sudanese who are now facing major challenges which go far beyond health issues.

Well – with the Luxor field season cancelled and the Sudan field season on hold, my team is currently working on different tasks and we are especially focused on the analysis of our past seasons and on preparing publications. We still are working partly in home office and our monthly jour fixe meetings for the ERC DiverseNile project are run digitally via zoom.

With the summer term of LMU coming towards an end and the summer break approaching, I thought it would be beneficial for our team spirit to meet again in person – of course wearing masks and keeping the appropriate distance.

This weekend, we therefore had a very stimulating meeting focusing on digital archaeology. This is nothing brand-new for us – my former ERC AcrossBorder project used many computer-based tools such as spatial analysis, 3D modelling, image analysis etc. Our workflow in the field included a digital documentation system which was already introduced to the MUAFS project in 2020. It is based on a geodetical survey by a total station instrument and image-based 3D modelling via “Structure from Motion” (SfM). Because of the utilization of standard equipment already present on excavations (total station, digital camera and regular mobile computers) the system is robust and flexible. We employed it for three main tasks of various scales and contexts at Sai: 1) excavations in single-context surfaces, 2) excavations in subterranean rock-cut chambers, 3) kite aerial photography for establishing a digital landscape model of the area of interest.

Although we are very happy with our digital documentation system (of which we owe a lot to Martin Fera from Vienna), some work steps could be improved and especially Cajetan invested already much time in thinking about alternations and new solutions to improve the workflow. With our new project, we want to go a bit further, for example by using field-suitable mobile devices. And this is something where we now, due to covid-19, have much time to plan before the next field season.

Team meeting in times of covid-19.

During our team meeting this weekend, we discussed and tried several new tools and settings, especially our new pen tablets and displays. Patrizia has already great skills working with these tablets, first of all for the digitalization of drawings. But there are so many other possible applications! Patrizia showed us several apps and useful software and we already had some great ideas to incorporate these new tools into the workflow for our projects in both Egypt and Sudan.

DiverseNile is clearly on a new level using computer-based tools compared to AcrossBorders – timely of course, and also of much benefit not just for research, but also for teaching. The upcoming winter term at LMU will be again a digital term – with e-learning and online tools for safety reasons. We are quite well prepared, also for teaching our introduction to archaeological fieldwork via zoom and with mobile devices like tablets and smart phones – we will thus bring the latest developments in digital archaeology to our students.

Much in archaeology does, however, not only depend on the equipment but especially on the skills of the team – we will therefore continue with team building activities in these challenging times in order to be best prepared for the upcoming successful digs in Egypt and Sudan. All fingers and toes crossed that these digs will be possible soon!